“In Goloka Vrindavana, the living entities are serving Krishna as friends, cowherd boys, gopis, lovers, fathers, mothers and so on. Even the trees, water, flowers, land, calves and cows serve Krishna in Goloka Vrindavana. This is also our business, but somehow or other we do not like to serve Krishna; therefore we have been put into the service of maya, in the three modes of material nature.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 12)
Who are we? Why are we placed into this world? The bewildered soul feels as if he is a stranger in a strange land, forced to roam an area where the proper course of action is not easy to decipher. In addition, there are the obvious pains and miseries to deal with, which can be inflicted by forces of nature, the mind and the body, and the influences of other living entities. Why can’t there just be peace and harmony? Why is there war, famine, pestilence, greed, envy, pride and so many other destructive agents? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, fill in many of these details to the best level of understanding possible, for the human mind is incapable of gaining complete knowledge. This very deficiency is indicative of the primary difference between the superior entity and His subordinates. This discrepancy also provides a clue into helping us find the proper course of action in life, a path which leads to a reinstatement of the natural order. When the individual’s identity is properly understood, all work can be performed under the proper mindset and for the most worthwhile aim, thus relieving the distresses that are regularly encountered.
“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)
The most difficult realization for the conditioned soul bewildered by the forces of nature to come upon is the proper identification. What does this mean exactly? Sense perceptions form the basis of all opinion and thought. This should make sense after all, for if we don’t hear, see or taste something, how will we understand anything? From the time of birth, what is known to us is our body; so the various parts it has, such as the hands, legs, face, and mind, are taken as the identifiable aspects. But through the sublime vision of the Vedas and the people who disseminate Vedic wisdom, the confidential information revealing the real identity of the individual comes to be known. The essence of individuality is the spirit soul, which is part and parcel of a higher being. From One came many, but the many can never be equal to the One. A piece of paper may be folded up and then ripped into many different pieces, thereby destroying the original, but in spiritual understanding, the Original can create an infinite number of fragments and still never be destroyed. Only in the spiritual world, a realm not affected by the pangs of material existence brought on by the forces of time, can one plus one equal one and two minus two equal two.
As the individuals have come from the Original, there is an inherent relationship established between the two entity types. The many are meant to act in the service of the Original, for one entity always remains superior and the other always subordinate. In the absence of this relationship in an active state, the many can never find a permanent, peaceful condition. The genesis of the material world, the realm we currently occupy, can be traced to the desire to break free from the constitutional position. When service to the Supreme Entity is neglected, there must be unhappiness and misery. At the same time, the Original never changes His position, as He is eternally situated in transcendence. Therefore the offer to rejoin His association is always open. One simply has to understand their true nature and follow the steps necessary for rekindling their dormant love for the Supreme Lord and all problems will vanish.
To help us better understand how and why turning our backs on our constitutional position has such a deleterious effect, we can study the workings of modern appliances and machines. By taking something as simple as a dishwasher we can see how specific components are meant to work in a certain way, and how deviating from the intended functions can have harmful consequences. With a dishwasher, we get a wonderful invention that allows for loads of dirty dishes to be cleaned at one time. When manually cleaning plates and glasses, there is much effort taken to wipe, wash and dry each plate, glass, knife and fork individually. Especially if one has a big family or if one is working in a large eating establishment, the number of dirty dishes can pile up very quickly. Therefore the dishwasher becomes a godsend, a machine that can save so much time and effort by washing many dishes at one time while requiring little manual labor.
The dishwasher has a specific constitutional position, meaning it can only be used to wash certain kinds of items. Inside of the machine there is typically a rack, which stipulates that the plates and glasses be aligned in proper order, with sufficient space separating them. This ensures that every dish is cleaned properly and thoroughly. There is also a designated dispenser for the dishwashing detergent, and the cycles of the machine are tailored specifically to clean and dry metal, porcelain, glass and silver utensils and kitchen items.
Now let’s say we wanted to clean our clothes inside of a dishwasher. This seems like a silly proposal, as there already exist machines to wash and dry clothes, but in a realm where there is freedom of action, anything is possible. It would be silly to go on violent rampages or ingest lethal doses of drugs and alcohol, but people go to these extremes regardless. Freedom brings with it the possibility of all outcomes occurring. The rational thinkers may realize that certain activities are foolish and should thus be avoided, but this doesn’t universally preclude the harmful actions from being committed. Therefore there is every possibility of a person placing shirts, pants or underwear into a dishwasher to clean.
The results of such a transgression are pretty obvious to predict. A clothes washing machine moves the garments around and spins them so that they will be easier to dry later on. The dishwashing machine has a completely different goal in mind. If the dishes were to be moved around, there would be a high risk of breakage during the process. Therefore the items requiring cleaning remain stationary. Because of this feature, a dishwashing machine will not clean clothes very well. In addition, the drying cycles are completely different; therefore the clothes can be damaged by the levels of heat employed.
Putting clothes in a dishwasher is one small example out of many actions that can be taken which violate the constitutional nature of the objects in question. Indeed, even in the washing machine if certain clothes are put through the incorrect cycle, the clothes can be damaged. Sweaters can shrink drastically in size if the wrong heat levels are applied during the drying stage. Mixing bright colors with whites will result in clothes with a pink color after washing. In this way, the constitutional position, the dharma of the particular object, must be maintained; otherwise the results will be unpleasant.
For the spirit soul, the machine occupied at the time of birth serves as the instrument for work. Identity comes from the spiritual spark within, with the body taking direction from it. Since the soul’s dharma is to be a lover of God, the natural occupational duty of the body becomes to act in the interests of the soul’s essential characteristic. Activities like hearing, chanting, remembering and worshiping God in all His glory are what the various body parts should be used for. When constitutional activities are absent, or when they are not given highest priority amongst all other behaviors within a daily routine, the body does not get utilized properly. As we saw with the dishwasher, if a machine is misused, there cannot be beneficial results. The miseries we see around us are due only to forgetfulness of God, a transgression which causes every resultant action taken to be unnatural.
But to understand that we are not our body is very difficult. How is it possible to realize that every aspect of our outer covering is simply dead matter that doesn’t represent who we are? The example often cited by wonderful and kind devotees like His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to properly convey the principle of true identity relates to the hands and the stomach. The hands are very useful body parts capable of doing so many things. For the kshatriyas, the warrior class of men, the hands can be used for fighting, performing religious sacrifices, and giving in charity. Though a military man has many responsibilities pertaining to the defense of the innocent, his hands are still capable of bringing tangible benefits and carrying out prescribed duties in so many other areas of activity. The stomach, on the other hand, has the specific role of distributing the nutrients found in food to the rest of the body. Though the stomach seems to work involuntarily, its functions are regulated by the workings of nature, which dictate how material elements interact. As soon as food is ingested, the stomach knows just where to redirect the relevant nutrients.
What would happen if the hand decided that it was going to enjoy food for itself? The hand is equally as related to the body as the stomach is, so why should it be deprived of enjoying sumptuous food? Obviously this mindset is silly, for the hand’s constitutional position in eating is to serve the owner of the body by taking food and placing it into the mouth. In the absence of real knowledge of the way that food should be ingested, the hand would simply touch and hold food and do nothing else. Therefore there would never be any tangible benefit received.
The hands and stomach are attached to the body, so it is a little difficult to understand that they are separate from the individual. But what if we took the example of something similar to a hand, like a spoon? Say that the hand decided to hold a spoon and use it to pick up food and bring it to the mouth. When the spoon is attached to the body, it essentially becomes one with the individual, an appendage to the machine occupied by the soul. If the spoon decided to act outside of its intended functions, such as by writing, holding weapons, performing sacrifices, or lifting objects heavier than normal food portions, there would be no benefit to the body. The spoon can even be renounced without the individual being affected at all.
All of the body parts work in the same way, including the mind. Every aspect of the outer covering of the soul is a temporary manifestation of matter. The soul is given the giant machine known as the body to gain release from the cycle of birth and death. The human form of life is considered the most auspicious because only a human being can understand the high concepts that explain the differences between matter and spirit. The animal will forever think that its hands and legs form its identity. It is seen that a human being can survive after losing a hand or a leg; thus how can identity be taken from the body? Prosthetic limbs can perform many of the same functions as the original body parts, so there should be no difficulty in understanding that we are spirit soul, aham brahmasmi.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.22)
When the body parts act in the interests of maintaining the foremost characteristic of the soul, its sanatana dharma, there is no question of unhappiness or distress. The residents of Goloka Vrindavana, which is situated in the spiritual sky, best exemplify what the proper course of action looks like and what comes as a result of being wholly conscious of the Supreme Lord. The original fire of spiritual energy is known by many names in the numerous spiritual traditions around the world, but the Vedas proclaim that the two names “Krishna” and “Rama” best describe and address that Supreme Being. Krishna is the most attractive entity in all the universes. He is of a bluish complexion and is exquisitely beautiful. Just one look at His smiling face is enough to destroy the pride of the living entity deluded by the forces of nature. Dharma can be reinstated in just one second through a pure, loving sentiment directed at the Supreme Lord. Rama describes God’s ability to provide the most intense transcendental pleasure to the individual souls. This name is also used to address Krishna’s expansion as the warrior prince Lord Rama, who roamed this earth many thousands of years ago.
The non-different forms of Godhead are many, but the original personality never changes. Anyone who is devoted to God in thought, word and deed will never have to worry about the damaging effects of using the various aspects of material nature incorrectly. The residents in the spiritual land of Vrindavana always work for Krishna’s pleasure. Everyone there is wholly deferent to their specific mood of worship, the relationship they have established with Govinda, the pleasure giver to the senses and the cows. Normally we think of service as requiring a respectful attitude, where the servant doesn’t speak up and strictly follows all the orders given by the master. In the spiritual land, the service mentality can follow many different rasas, or transcendental mellows. The work of a devotee acting as Krishna’s parent is different from the actions undertaken by Krishna’s friend, but the mood of love and devotion is the same. The mother sometimes chastises Krishna and treats Him as if He were helpless, while the friend views the Lord as an equal, a confidante whose company should never be renounced.
All of these relationships can be established by any person residing in the material world through commitment to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Chanting the names of the Lord found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the bedrock of real yoga. Material nature is only illusory and the source of misery for as long as its various components are used improperly. When the bhakti mindset is adopted, all the parts of the machine known as the body can be used to reach the param dhama, the ultimate destination of the Supreme Abode belonging to the Supreme Person.